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Standing room only at Williams Institute opening plenary on gay rights in Latin America

From The Williams Institute, a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy at UCLA School of Law:

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LOS ANGELES – Yesterday, the Williams Institute, a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy at UCLA School of Law, kicked-off a four-day international symposium focusing on advances in LGBT rights around the globe.  The Global Arc of Justice Conference is scheduled to run through Saturday, March 14th on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, California and will feature more than 120 speakers from 40 countries, including academics, litigators, supreme court justices, judges, public officials, advocates, students and members of the community. More than 300 participants are scheduled to attend.

The conference was co-convened by the Williams Institute, the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association (ILGLaw) and the City of West Hollywood.  Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears opened the conference with ILGlaw President David B. Cruz and West Hollywood City Councilmembers John Heilman and John Duran.

The opening plenary session, LGBT Rights in Latin America, included presentations by human rights lawyer Tatiana Cordero, who helped draft Ecuador’s new constitution that includes explicit protections for LGBT people; Germán H. Rincón Perfetti, who successfully litigated LGBT rights cases before the Colombia Constitutional Court; Karen Atala Riffo, a lesbian judge from Chile who is fighting for custody of her children before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and Jorge Saavedra, Mexico’s former AIDS czar. 

“In the past several years, countries in Latin America have been leaping ahead in recognizing LGBT rights,” said Sears.  “Given that California and the U.S. already share so much with Latin America in terms of history, culture and population, we now have the opportunity to share a growing recognition of LGBT rights.”

Cruz said, “Mexico’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, homophobia and heterosexism under Dr. Saavedra’s leadership offer just one example of the many ways Latin American countries can serve as a model for the U.S. and other countries that aspire to justice for all, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”

After the opening plenary session, the UCLA AIDS Institute and BIENESTAR Human Services honored Jorge Saavedra, MD, MPH with an achievement award for his work on behalf of LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS.  The award was presented by Tom Coates, Director of UCLA AIDS Institute and Oscar de la O, President and CEO of BIENESTAR.  Dr. Saavedra has championed gay and lesbian rights as Director of CENSIDA, Mexico’s national AIDS Program, over the past five years and his efforts have had impact in Mexico and around the world.

Dr. Saavedra said, “I will accept this award on behalf of the LGBT men and women of Mexico who have been fighting for their rights and to be treated with dignity.  It has been an honor to serve them and to stand alongside them in their fight for justice.”

Dr. Saavedra helped secure treatment for all Mexicans living with AIDS and is a tireless advocate for gay and lesbian rights.  He developed federally-funded anti-homophobia and anti-AIDS phobia radio and television campaigns in Mexico.  His Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture at the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico City was the first plenary lecture at an International AIDS Conference (IAC) to focus on men-who-have-sex-with-men.  During this high-profile lecture, Dr. Saavedra spoke openly about being gay, his husband and the need for gay and same-sex marriage rights as a public health issue.  Dr. Saavedra is currently Chief of Global Affairs at AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The conference offers presentations in simultaneous translation in English and Spanish and will highlight developments and challenges in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua.  Topics covered will also include international efforts to advance legal recognition and protection for same sex couples; HIV/AIDS and LGBT human rights; the repeal of sodomy laws; efforts by national governments to end homophobia and advance LGBT equality; and advancement of rights for transgendered people.  The conference’s overarching goals are to strengthen global alliances and coalitions among LGBT organizations and share knowledge on specific strategies for advancing LGBT equality throughout the world.  To register and obtain additional conference details, please visit the website: www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute.   

                       Please call Laura Rodriguez at (310) 956-2425 for more information.

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(From left to right) Jorge Saavedra, Brad Sears, Javier Corrales, Karen Atala Riffo and Germán Rincón Perfetti at the opening plenary session.

Photo by Colin Young-Wolff

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